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AIBO Musical!

David Nunez
David Nunez
5 min read

Whoa!  Aibo puppies doing a robot show/musical!

Thanks for the link, Sheilagh!

Look in upper right corner... so cute.  

So about my robot show:  I had the "brilliant" brainstorm to reduce the scale (as in "phsyical scale") of the robots and stage.

It means that instead of a full-size humanoid puppet/robot, I'll go with a half-sized model, for example.

That means smaller machines, less weight, smaller motors, smaller expense.  It also allows me to control the madness a little bit more closely.

Shockingly enough, it's actually taking a little bit of shape! Granted, I don't even have ONE actual Raku-bot built, but I'm laying out all the designs... the entire show plays through my mind at least once or twice a day... I have a proxy song list in my iPod (granted, it will all change once I get the real music together)...

Ok, so let me take a shot at explaining what Raku is all about.

I originally envisioned Raku audiences sitting at tables in front of computer screens interacting with action, multimedia, and robots on stage... visualizations would be happening on their screens, on the walls and cielings of the theaters, and of course, on stage.  Hence, very much cabaret environment.

When I did the math, I realized that was a very expensive proposition (i.e. one computer per 2-3 audience members).  It's definitely an interesting idea for future shows, but it doesn't scale well for the first foray.

Enter Raku v2.

The current iteration of Raku is very much spectator-oriented, but there are still certain, limited audience interactions (both passive and active... example: one of the scenes involves a robot painting what it sees when it looks out at the audience vs. audiences' noise making affecting the motion of a machine on stage)

This show is focused on the theme of "Change."   Particularly, it will exlore the Change that occurs when technology shifts mankind in ways that challenge tradition and belief.

The show is essentially plotless, but there is somewhat of a story arc... There are characters... a protagonist, his friends, his enemies... There is a conflict, and there is a catharsis and resolution... to what end is anyone's guess, I freely admit.

The setting is very much unspecific, but it is a world where sand and dirt give an old machine one more chance to live.  It is a place where it makes sense for birds covered in lights to fly into and out of television screens... where a dozen rolling machines work together to accomplish meaningless but seemingly urgent tasks, and where music emerges from seemingly random data.

Here's how I'm envisioning the opening experience:

The show begins far before the curtain rises.  The lobby of the theatre is filled with robotic, mechanical, digtial, and interactive art (either my own, or other local artists').  The theatre doors remain closed, but the audience interacts with the machines and each other before the show.  They also are encouraged to give input (like their names) which will be used as seed data for show segments.

Suddenly, a megaphone-holding, bell-ringing, rattle-shaking bot rolls across the floor through the crowd, announcing the the doors opening for the theatre.  He leads the audience into the main theatre and into an even weirder place than before.

Ambient, space music (with hints of far-away tribal drums and chants) fill the house.  The lights are low and there is a faint suggestion of incense burning. As the audience takes their seats, they will notice that the stage is pretty much barren except for a very large raised platform (approximately 4 feet off the stage floor.  On the platform, to the right (stage left) there is a small bowl on a pedastal which seems to be filled with a glowing, writhing, blue substance.  At each corner of the platform is a metal structure on which the audience will notice various technical gear.  If they look closely enough, they will notice that behind the platform and to the left (stage right) is a bank of computer devices... LCD Screens, keyboards, input devices of unknown construction.  That's my cockpit.

There is also a robot which looks like a large eyeball on an arm on wheels rolling back and forth in front of the platform, looking out at the newcomers and muttering to itself disapprovingly in unknown robot gobbledy-gook.  Every once in a while, it will zoom in on one particular audience member and start to scream.  What it's seeing is being played on 3 television sets that are above the platform.

Superimposed on the robot's view is a digital clock... and it's counting backwards to 00:00:00.

With approximately two minutes to go before showtime, the house lights dim and the music becomes louder... and the drumming more urgent as the clock approaches zero.  Now is the time for an announcer to welcome folks to the show, talk about rules, etc.

When the clock is at zero, finally, the lights go out completely, the screens blank out, and the drumming stops and are replaced by a single, low tone... and darkness.

Slowly, slowly, a spotlight grows on something new on the platform, and as it grows more clear, the music tone is joined by a bass throat singer.

The figure on stage is Yoshitake, our protagonist.  He is very old, but full of curiosity and desire to learn.  Everything is new to him because the world he has known has evolved, but he is kind and takes pleasure in simple pursuits.

He stands about a meter tall.  His face looks like it was wrought from a furnace and is indeed metallic and skeletal (you can see right through his head).  His hands look worn as if he has been farming his entire life.  He is wearing a reddish-brown robe and his feet are bare. He is holding a long staff to balance himself.

Yoshitake is very still for a long while.  He too is surveying the audience in his own way... not quite sure what to make of these strange creatures.  The audience might believe he's is a statue until he begins to move as additional throat singers join the chorus.  His right arm and feet are completely under robotic control.  His left arm and head are controlled directly by me.  I move them around, like a puppet, in synchronization with the robot's movement.  The robot, too, responds to subtle differences in my motion.

The character begins to shuffle across the platform towards the bowl. As he nears it, the substance glows brighter.  He cups his hands and dips them into the bowl and pulls them out letting the stuff spill through his fingers.

It is sand... from which silicon is harvested... from which semiconductors are fabricated... from which chips are built...  and from which robots gain their life.

37 individual robots and machines will make appearances throughout the show.  I will remain mostly as the man behind the curtain except for some vital transition points when Yoshitake realizes he isn't completely under his own control... and then decides he'd like to try it on his own for a little bit.

He will interact with several other robotic creatures and multimedia programs, most of which are friendly... some are not.

The audience will interact with the machines as well... creating music and controlling motion, making portions of each show random and unique.

Will Raku ever REALLY happen?  Who knows.

I hope so...


David Nunez Twitter

Dir of Technology at the MIT Museum • Writing about emerging tech's impact on your life • Speculative insights on the intersection of humanity and technology 🤖


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